Writing a better story

This is a writing post. I’m just coming at it a little bit sideways.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my instinct was to bury my head in the ground because she’s about the same age my mother was when she died of cancer. I won’t say what that age was except that it was way too young for cancer.

I didn’t bury my head in the ground, of course. I joined in with my friends and we formed a support network to drive her to her chemotherapy appointments, babysit her young child, and hire a housecleaning service to clean her house every 2 weeks so she didn’t have to worry about that when she was wiped out by chemo.

And gradually I stopped freaking out because history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, and I realized that maybe we were writing a better story. Cancer treatments have improved a lot in the last 30 years. My mom had a rare, nameless type of cancer that was terminal the moment she was diagnosed. She survived less than a year. My friend has breast cancer, which is treatable and sometimes curable. She has a 90% chance of surviving at least 5 years. After her first round of chemo and surgery, my friend’s cancer is undetectable. She’s got more treatment ahead of her, and it’s too early to say she’s cured, but so far this is a way better story than the one from 30 years ago.

All my writing stems from a desire to write a better story. Nathan Bransford wrote a blog post recently about writing as catharsis; he wrote his books while he was going through a divorce. I actually did the same thing.

I was married for 12 years, and I never stopped loving my husband. But he did some things that were incompatible with marriage, and we got divorced. I couldn’t stop feeling, though, that this wasn’t the way the story should have ended. My marriage was a bad story. Things happened during it that were random and nonsensical, and it had an unsatisfying ending.

Therefore I set out to write a better story, in fiction. Lots of better stories, as it turned out. In genre fiction, there is no randomness. There is no, “And then one day the young woman was diagnosed with a rare, unnamed terminal cancer and died within the year. The end!” In genre fiction, unlike real life, stories make sense. Unselfish love is rewarded. Courage is rewarded. The good guys win. The bad guys get their comeuppance. Not so, necessarily, in real life. The real world sucks at storytelling.

When real life disappoints, this author sits down at her computer and writes a better story.

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8 Responses to Writing a better story

  1. Jessi Gage says:

    Amy, this is a wonderful post. So heartfelt. My sympathies to you on the loss of your mother, even though I know it was a long time ago. And on every bad story that has happened to you. But I see the author you are and the responsible mother, caring friend, and generous writer’s advocate, and there is no doubt you are changing your story for the better.

    I’ll say some extra prayers for your friend with breast cancer. So glad treatment is working!

  2. Amen. I know for sure this is why I write. I hope your friend recovers and has a long, happy life.

  3. Steve Gurr says:

    A truly moving post, Amy.

  4. Wonderful, moving, lovely, sad, cathartic. Amy, I cannot say things better than any of the other commenters. But this was deeply touching. My prayers to your friend, sympathies to you and your family about your mother and your marriage, and praise to you for being there so well for those in your life.

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